What is a classic car?
How do you define a classic?
In this edition of Car Facts, we take a look at one of Japan’s most legendary two seat, rear wheel drive sports cars – the MR2, and look at its classic credentials and potential.
Is a Toyota MR2 a classic car? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
How Do You Define A Classic Car?
To start with, let’s consider the world of dogs – it offers a useful comparison versus the world of cars and what constitutes a classic.
As we all know, many dog owners take the “definition” of their dog breeds seriously.
Is that border collie actually a border collie, for example? Or is it only some kind of mongrel that happens to look like a border collie but is too far removed from the bloodlines to be considered as such?
As luck would have it, for dog owners there are both breed specific and overarching organizations such the American Kennel Club that provide clear guidelines around what constitutes a dog of a specific breed.
Furthermore, there are even “pedigree” records kept with regards to which dogs actually certify.
Nothing as consistent as this exists for cars. While there are some independent organisations that set their own rules as to what is a classic car (and what isn’t) the truth is that the definition of a classic is largely open to interpretation.
In our opinion, there are a few key factors that determine whether or not a car is a classic:
- Age – the older a car is, the more likely it is to be a classic
- Desirability – desirable, wanted, in-demand cars are more likely to be considered classics (for example, very few would consider a 1990s Toyota Camry to be a classic, because despite being on the cusp of sufficient age, they weren’t and aren’t particularly desirable cars).
- Rarity – the rarer a car is (especially if it is some kind of limited or special edition) the more likely it is to be considered a classic.
- Performance – there are exceptions to this rule of course, but often strong performers or cars that innovated in terms of performance have a tendency to become classics.
- Reception at the time – cars that were acclaimed at their time of release often become classics. What is also interesting is that sometimes cars that were maligned and disliked at launch can have a tendency to become classics too, but over a longer time period.
- Cult following – vehicles that have strong owners clubs, aftermarket parts networks etc also have a tendency to become classics.
So, on these factors that we believe can be used to define a classic car, does that qualify the Toyota MR2 as being part of this club?
Let’s take a look.
How Does The MR2 Stack Up?
Let’s assess whether or not the MR2 is a classic car by using our same criteria from above.
Bear in mind that with the MR2 there are three distinct generations. We have therefore made comment on each.
- W10 MR2 – With the earliest examples now over 35 years old (introduced in 1984) the W10/”wedge” MR2 scores well on the age side of things.
- SW20 MR2 – If you’ve read our SW20 MR2 buyer’s guide, then you’ll know this car was introduced in 1989. We think that qualifies at least as a “modern classic”.
- W30 MR2 – Introduced in 1999 and running until 2007, the W30 probably isn’t old enough yet to score highly in this regard. However, the earliest examples are now 21 years old, so there is once again some modern classic potential here.
- W10 MR2 – Paradoxically, the W10 MR2 (despite being the oldest generation) is generally seen as less desirable than its successor, the SW20. However, certain models such as the supercharged variant have an undeniable cool factor about them. Prices have been climbing steadily as well.
- SW20 MR2 – The SW20 is a car in hot demand; even base NA models are seen to be desirable cars, and the turbos even more so.
- W30 MR2 – This would have to be the least desirable generation of the MR2, perhaps due to its softer appearance and more “manageable” characteristics. However, we think that the market has slept on the W30 for too long and it will become more desirable over time.
- W10 MR2 – Make no mistake, it’s getting hard to find a good example of the W10 these days. Although the highest number of this generation was produced (according to the MR2 Wiki) there has been a longer time frame for examples to drop out of the market due to age, damage, write-offs etc. In some markets, such as New Zealand where we live, even finding a rubbish example of this generation MR2 is a real challenge now.
- SW20 MR2 – It’s a bit easier to find a good SW20 MR2 (especially if you aren’t fussed too much on engine choice or spec) and in many markets there are always average examples available for the brave buyer or the DIY enthusiast. However, these cars are definitely becoming rarer.
- W30 MR2 – This particular generation had the smallest production volume, so it can be a challenge to find one local to you depending on where you live. However, being a newer car there are more survivors. Looking at a lineup of this generation, it’s probably going to be easier to find a good example.
- W10 MR2 – By modern standards, the naturally aspirated W10 is probably beaten by just about anything you can drive off the lot at any new car dealer (based on straight line performance). However, these cars were more about the balance of handling and power as well as driver involvement, and still score highly in this regard. Supercharged examples have a bit of poke as well.
- SW20 MR2 – The SW20 was definitely a better performer, and the turbo versions are still quick by today’s standards. Good handling too, but this generation had a reputation for being a bit of a handful and some consider it to be the most dangerous production car of all time in terms of handling characteristics. Even a base spec is bucket loads of fun to drive, but you do need to show respect as there’s not a lot of driver aids or safety gear to bail you out if you get in trouble.
- W30 MR2 – Although this generation didn’t live up to the SW20 (at least when comparing the turbo version) it is still relatively quick in a straight line with a 0-60mph around 7.5 seconds, and also the handling is generally considered to be excellent. In fact, many consider the W30 to be the best handling MR2 of all, in terms of capability and controlability.
- Reception at the time
- W10 MR2 – The W10 featured in many best car lists of the 1980s. It was a well-received vehicle at the time.
- SW20 MR2 – Once again, this generation was well receive in terms of looks, handling and power. However, many commented on the fact that it could be an intimidating drive due to snap oversteer.
- W30 MR2 – This generation received the most mixed feedback of any. Feedback on styling was divided. Furthermore, many felt the engine was not strong enough (it is part of the reason that a popular swap is the more powerful 2ZZ-GE). However, as we mentioned above, the handling was universally praised. There are few cars available at any price point that handle as well as a sorted W30 MR2.
- Cult following
- W10 MR2 – Unquestionably a cult car – there is a loyal following of “protectors” of this increasingly rare machine. A true icon of 1980s Japanese motoring.
- SW20 MR2 – Once again, the SW20 has a loyal (and larger) following. There are lots of owners clubs, forums and so on so you are well supported in terms of technical repair advice, parts availability etc. Depending on where you live there may be meet up opportunities etc.
- W30 MR2 – The W30 has been slower to develop a cult following. There are certainly some loyalists out there, and as more and more people come around to accepting that despite its differences the W30 is actually a great little car, we think the following will increase.
Considering the points above, we think that:
- The W10 MR2 is clearly a classic, especially supercharged versions.
- The SW20 MR2 is almost certainly a classic, especially turbocharged versions.
- The W30 MR2 is probably not a classic yet, although is starting to show elements of “modern classic”.
Conclusion – Is A Toyota MR2 A Classic Car?
In our opinion, the Toyota MR2 is a classic car, especially the first two generations (although many tend to view the MR-S/3rd generation MR2 as a fairly distinct model altogether … kind of like a “step brother” to the MR2 family).
The third generation is a bit harder to pin down, although we think that over time it will be considered as one too – if only because of just how superbly it handles.
Beyond some specific car clubs, there are few concrete definitions around what constitutes a classic car.
However, as we outlined above, the MR2 fits many of the commonly accepted criteria, such as age, desirability, performance, “coolness” factor and so on. As many MR2s fall victim to the sands of time (and others – especially SW20s, which are famed for being dangerous cars – are damaged or destroyed in accidents) and they become more desirable by collectors and enthusiasts, prices are rising fast – this is another check in the box for the MR2 being a classic.
As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In some respects, classic status is also in the eye of the beholder.
While fussy, long-established car clubs may overlook something like the humble MR2, at Garage Dreams we genuinely believe that it is a classic (or at the very least close to becoming a classic).
The W10 MR2 is almost certainly a classic, especially in the more desirable supercharged variant – and the SW20 must surely be getting close if it isn’t already there.
If you’re thinking of getting your hands on an MR2, then now would be a good time to act before it becomes very difficult to score a decent example. Go here to check out our Toyota MR2 buyer’s guide for more information on scoring yourself a great example of this “junior classic”.
The only arguable exception as we alluded to above is the third generation MR2, also known as the MR-S. However, we think that as time marches on this car will be more likely to attain conventional classic status, and in some circles it is already seen as a cult classic anyway.
Go here to check out our third generation MR2/MR-S buyers guide.
We also welcome your comments and input here. Do you believe the MR2 is a classic? Or is it just a quirky bit of Japanese history but nothing more?